May the Fourth…

…be with you.

Today is Star Wars Day, and Shakespeare Geek and Bardfilm made sure that Shakespeare got in on the action. For my contribution… No, I’m not going to compare Luke Skywalker to Hamlet, at least not today. But I would like to share how the Star Wars franchise has made teaching Shakespeare just a little bit easier.

A series of three related dramatic works is called a trilogy. Four works make a tetralogy. Early in Shakespeare’s career, he wrote a tetralogy of plays about the English kings: Henry VI, Part One; Henry VI, Part Two; Henry VI, Part Three; and Richard III. The plays cover the span of events from 1422 to 1485, and are referred to collectively as the first tetralogy.

A bit later (though still early in his career), Shakespeare wrote another tetralogy of plays about the English Kings: Richard II; Henry IV, Part One; Henry IV, Part Two; and Henry V. These plays were set earlier; they run from 1399 to 1415. This was the second tetralogy.

This seems pretty straightforward, but it could often cause confusion, even for graduate students. The second tetralogy takes place before the first tetralogy? How can that be? Why did he do it that way? Wait, which was the first tetralogy?

Everything changed with the release of Episode One: The Phantom Menace. Now, when I explain that Shakespeare wrote the first tetralogy before the second, but the second takes place before the first, I can enjoy their momentarily confused looks. I know I can just add “You know, like Star Wars…” and instantly see the clouds lift and light shine into the room. Since the second Star Wars series, everyone understands the idea of a prequel trilogy.

So thank you to Star Wars for making a hard thing easy. May Henry IV be with you!

2 Responses to “May the Fourth…”

  1. Shakespeare Teacher » Blog Archive » Video: The Hollow Crown’s Richard II Says:

    [...] of The Hollow Crown, Sam Mendes’s four-part television adaptation of Shakespeare’s second tetralogy, probably deserves further elaboration. I’ll be watching the productions on DVD, so I may be [...]

  2. Shakespeare Teacher » Blog Archive » Family Trees for Shakespeare’s Histories Says:

    [...] My monthly Shakespeare reading group is gearing up to do the history plays. For the next eight months, starting this Sunday, we’re going to be working our way through the two tetralogies. [...]

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